Tea Traditions and Tips on Brewing Tea
For many, the only way we know how to brew a cup of tea is by dipping a Lipton tea bag into boiling water, let it soak for an indefinite amount of time and drink what, most of the time, becomes a bitter tasting dark liquid that needs sugar and cream to make it taste better.
Traditional tea drinking countries serve tea in accordance with their culture. In China, a guest is welcomed with a cup of tea. When traveling in Morocco and Tunisia, I satisfied my thirst by drinking a hot, sweet mint-flavored green tea on the hottest of days. Eventually I got used to it. Russians drink always-ready tea out of samovar- a large boiler that keeps water hot all day long. They drink it through a sugar cube. In Britain, the seventh duchess of Bedford, introduced the afternoon tea. The most remarkable is the Japanese tea ceremony. Known as Chanoyu, the ritual has been an important part of Japanese culture for more than 500 years since Zen monks traveling from China, introduced tea.
However you choose to drink your tea, and by all means, you should be creative and invent your own ritual, there are some simple rules or suggestions that will reward you with a great cup of tea.
Keep it real and choose what fits your lifestyle. Today there is a huge variety of teapots available to us. We can choose from traditional Yixing pots from China’s Jiangsu province, beautiful porcelain, traditional or modern patterns, glazed ceramic pots or elegant contemporary glass pots with strainers and presses built in. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the tea leaves should have enough room to “swim.” The generous size of the infuser will ensure that the leaves have plenty of room to infuse properly. Also, make sure the teapot and teacup are clean and free of any soap residue. It is also wise to warm up the cup and pot with hot water first.
Water temperature: Have you ever tasted bitter green tea? It probably wasn’t the tea but the water that was too hot and it burned the leaves. Properly brewed, good quality tea should be very smooth to the palate.
Black and oolong teas can be brewed with water that has just been brought to a rolling boil which is 203°F or 95°C. Depending on the grade of tea, black and oolong teas can be steeped for about 5 minutes.
Green tea likes water at about 180°F or 82°C, and white teas, because they are so delicate, prefer water even a bit less hot at 170°F or 76°C. Brew green and white teas between 3 and 5 minutes. Depending how strong you like your tea.
Not too many of us travel with a thermometer or even have one at home. Hmmm. Does the gauge go to poultry or steak temperature? When I first started experimenting brewing different teas, I did buy a good quality food-grade thermometer. You get used to touching the water temperature and judging what it is.
A good rule of thumb: For green and white tea, boil the water and let stand for a bout 5 minutes. When you touch the inside of your wrist with the water, it should not burn you. You should be able to have contact without wincing.
Enjoy your cup of tea!